The Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s iconic drives. It’s true – 243 kilometres of cliffside wrapped around the lip of the Southern Ocean; grand stone columns rising up out of the waves; surf beaches giving way to damp rainforests. So grand and ancient is some of this wild land it’s easy to forget it sits on Melbourne’s doorstep, making it an attractive retreat for a weekend.
Here’s our ideal itinerary for an adventure weekend away in the region. Big Sur, eat your heart out.
Drive – Melbourne to Torquay
Pack up the car early and head west out of Melbourne down the Princess Highway, watching the freeways and estates finally give way to rolling greenery and scrub as you go. If you’ve forgotten to fill up your thermos, make a quick detour to Cartel Coffee in Geelong, where Nathan Johnson is roasting some of Victoria’s most interesting beans in a laneway. Otherwise, stay on the bitumen through to Torquay and watch the Bass Strait open out before you. Take a moment for a morning dip, or, if you’ve brought your board along, a detour to Bells Beach where you can catch – or sit on the headland and watch – one of the world’s iconic right-hand breaks.
Lunch – Wye River Cafe
Once towelled off, jump back in the car and hop onto the Great Ocean Road proper, which will lead you through the picturesque seaside towns of Anglesea, Aireys Inlet and Lorne (where Bottle of Milk can top-up your caffeine levels if necessary). From here, follow the winding cliffside roads through to Wye River, but take your time, you’ll regularly want to stop on the sporadic gravel shoulders for photos of the epic ocean view and surrounds.
Soon enough you’ll reach Wye, one of the sweetest little towns in the state. Nestled at the base of a eucalyptus-covered escarpment, there’s not a lot to Wye River besides the general store and the pub. But you won’t be wanting for much else. Besides the artfully curated range of boutique foodstuffs here, Wye General serves tasty Ottolenghi-style big salads, fresh seafood, and chargrilled burgers served on house-made brioche buns. It’s also worth spending half an hour on the deck of the Wye Beach Hotel, where the bartender’s pull pints from local craft brewers such as Prickly Moses, Otway Estate and Forrest Brewing Company.
Drive – Wye to Skene’s Creek
Once fed, load up the boot with loot and make your final leg for the day. The road between Wye and Skene’s Creek is fantastically entertaining, with plenty of corners and switchbacks, all with panoramic views over the ocean below. If the season’s right, make sure to keep an eye out for Southern Right Whales, one of the 25 species that regularly migrate along the Victorian coastline to give birth in its sheltered bays.
Dinner – Chris’ Beacon Point
You’ll be eating and sleeping in the same place tonight – Chris’ at Beacon Point. Perched on the mountain looking down on the tiny township, this place is a genuine institution. First opened in 1979, the original building was completely destroyed by fire in 2003. But the rebuilt Chris’ is as charming as the original, and boasts perhaps one of the best views in Australian dining – the glass-panelled dining room built from local brushbox sits in the treetops with an extraordinary outlook over the bay below. We recommend parking the car and getting a table early, so you can watch the twilight creep over the ocean.
Once the sun’s down, kick back with some old-world food: saganaki topped with plump figs and pomegranate; seafood bisque topped with fresh mussels or a traditional Greek stew. Once done, hang around by the fireplace with a snifter of ouzo before bed.
Sleep – Chris’ Beacon Point
Chris’ has its own in-house accommodation, and the view is as spectacular as in the restaurant. Resting high about Skenes Creek, the villas and studios are all self-contained, with floor-to-ceiling windows that’ll greet you with unencumbered views of the ocean when you wake.
Drive – Turtons Track
Wake to a complimentary a la carte breakfast, which is every bit the equal to last night’s dinner. From there it’s time to get dirty.
Just 20 minutes north of Chris’ is Turtons Track, one of the best-kept secrets in Victorian drives. A narrow, winding road that unspools through the top of the Otway Ranges between Beech Forest and Tanybryn, this 12-kilometre stretch packs in a whole lot of rainforest. The entire road is lined with messmate, giant tree ferns droop over the road, and the hillsides are covered with enormous beech trees. The entirety of the track is sealed, but you’ll want to take your time and make this drive last.
Adventure – Redwood Forest, Otway Fly Treetop Walk
Fresh from seaside views and clifftop rods, it’s a little unsettling to suddenly find yourself in the Californian forest. In 1930 a group of foresters planted an experimental grove of Sequoia sempervirens in the Otways, resulting in a park of giant redwoods standing 60 metres tall today. Park your car and wander into the darkened grove, with its thick bed of ochre-coloured pine needles and scarcely any sunshine breaking through the leaves. Nearby, you’ll find Hopetoun Falls and Beauchamp Falls, so make a little extra time to take the short drive down the gravel road.
Now you’ve got the legs working, head to the Otway Fly Treetop Walk at the very top of the range. There’s more than 600 metres of elevated walkways here snaking between the rainforest trees, and a series of flying foxes from which the more adventurous can zip from tree to tree, 30 metres above the forest floor. There’s also a series of excellent walks in the surrounding area, including the stunning Triplet Falls.
Drive – Home
Adventure sated, make the late-afternoon trek back to Melbourne. We recommend taking a detour through Birregurra to pick up some of the region’s best produce at the local provedore – or stop for dinner at Brae, if you’re organised enough to book many months ahead. Weekend complete.
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